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Cornbread Café: Vegan Comfort Food with a Retro Twist

— Anne Bucher, EDN

When I heard about the grand opening of the Cornbread Cafe, a restaurant that focuses on vegan comfort and soul food, I was intrigued. As an open-minded omnivore who was born and raised in meat-loving Texas, my curiosity of vegan food inspired me to visit the Cornbread Cafe for my first experience with a meatless meal.

As I entered the retro style diner, I immediately noticed the vivid, fun colors of the walls which thoroughly complemented the teal colored booths lined along the windows.The black and white checkered tile floor and stainless steel appliances tied together an old-fashioned diner feel that, I had a feeling, would reflect their cooking style. Slightly overwhelmed by their rather expansive menu, the build-your-own option quickly put me at ease.

I ordered the Chicken Fried Tempeh with country gravy, which was fried to perfection, mashed potatoes, Uncle Todd’s Greens, which was a tasty blend of spinach, Earth Balance Natural Spread, Agave nectar, soy sauce and lemon juice, and a surprisingly delicious slice of gluten-free jalapeno cornbread. Everything was scrumptious and full of flavor, and my first experience of a no meat and dairy meal prompted me to sit down with the owners, Sheree Walters and Kristy Hammond, to find out more about their notable operation.

Walters had worked in the restaurant industry for many years, and she dreamed of creating her own restaurant that would focus on delicious and creative vegan food. In 2009, she posted an ad on Craigslist seeking a vegan entrepreneur, and Hammond was the only one to respond. Drawn to soul food because of its history with community involvement and bringing people together, Hammond yearned to open a restaurant that would cater to everybody, regardless of their dietary concerns. When Walters and Hammond met, they discussed their ideas and both had similar visions of what they wanted, so the idea of  an inviting vegan restaurant, The Cornbread Cafe, was born.

Moral support can make all the difference.

Not wanting to take the financial risk of opening a brick and mortar restaurant, Walters and Hammond instead decided on opening a small food cart. The Cornbread Cafe Food Cart quickly gained popularity with its unique and delicious vegan food, and their loyal customers consistently urged them to open a full service restaurant. By the summer of 2011, Walters and Hammond decided it was time to expand their business, and together with the tireless efforts of friends and fans, the Deb’s Diner location at 7th and Polk was transformed into a nostalgic 1950’s style diner, The Cornbread Cafe. After being open only a few months in their new location, the Cornbread Cafe was voted as one of the top restaurants in Eugene.

Clearly impressed by their take on meatless deliciousness, I soon returned to try the popular Eugenewich, which is modeled after a fast-food bacon cheeseburger. This sandwich is stacked high with a southern fried tofu patty, melted Daiya cheddar, deep fried carrot slices, hand-breaded onion ring, shredded lettuce, tomato, and complemented with a delicious smoky sauce. Again, this meat eating gal was loving the Cornbread Cafe’s comfort food. So, on my third visit, I ordered the Phish Sticks and Crinkle Fries. Although the Phish Sticks were not made with real fish, the flavors brought back memories of one of my childhood favorites, and the crinkly fries were a nice touch that completed the down home diner feel.

With a clear goal in mind, Cornbread Café’s mission is to provide a consistent, comforting, and quality dining experience. Somehow they manage to provide excellent customer service while remaining a fun, affordable, sustainable, community oriented restaurant that serves awesome vegan comfort food. Walters and Hammond make everyone feel at home, even the omnivores like me, and as I continue to become acquainted with the vegan foods that intrigue me, I plan to spend a little more time at the Cornbread Cafe.

Cornbread Cafe
1290 West Seventh (and Polk)
Eugene, 97402
www.cornbreadcafe.com

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